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World Series object lesson: Players having good years

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Things do not look good for the Texas Rangers—that was the kind of listless loss that gives me recurring dreams about Jeff Suppan falling over rounding third. Tommy Hunter's an interesting pitcher, or at least an interesting pitcher to be pitching this deeply into the postseason; he was extremely competent in the low minors, rushed through a system without a lot of pitchers in it without ever being very good, and is now a 23-year old pitching basically like Jeff Suppan was as a 35-year-old.

That kind of pitcher rarely shows up on such a good team so young, which shows how abruptly the Rangers have become excellent. His fellows are easier to find on last-place teams—Brad Bergesen, Sean O'Sullivan, Casey Coleman et al. They're not traditional sixth starters, like Blake Hawksworth proved to be for the Cardinals; they're guys who would normally be protected from becoming sixth starters—maybe Lance Lynn a year too early. Hunter wasn't especially bad, but he's not the kind of pitcher who's usually starting game four of a World Series, and it didn't work out in the Rangers' favor. 

But this is a team blog, and the subtext should always be: This is all about us. Like a film student who, watching porn, finds himself wondering why the lighting's all wrong, we must take these last ounces of the baseball season and divine from them some Cardinals-related knowledge. And in this case, I think it's this: It's hard to make the World Series. Most teams that do it are a little lucky.

Look at the means of Tommy Hunter and Company's game four destruction: 

  • Edgar Renteria was 3-4 with a run scored. Edgar Renteria is awesome; the angst I felt when he turned down the Cardinals' contract offer in 2004 was dissipated entirely when the Red Sox turned on him so quickly, and since then I've had the usual fond, vague memories of him as an ex-Cardinal. But he hasn't been average since 2007, when he was great, and he was below replacement level in 2009. This year he was a useful cog in the Giants' infield, and has turned into World Series Edgar Renteria just in time to scorch the Rangers. 
  • Aubrey Huff hit a home run that turned out to be the dagger. Huff is completely impossible to predict at this point in his career—for three years he was The Good Devil Ray, the Nate Colbert of those completely anonymous Dewon Brazelton Era teams. Then he was a guy with old player's skills who got prematurely old, putting up totally average OPSes from 2005-2007 and proving he wasn't a third baseman. Then he turned back into Aubrey Huff in 2008, cratered in 2009, and went back to turning back into Aubrey Huff in 2010. This year Total Zone thinks he was an outstanding outfielder—make of that what you will. The Giants gambled $3 million on him this year, and it paid off. 
  • Andres Torres was 3-5 with a run scored and an RBI. I am not this site's foremost Andres Torres expert, but he has a career minor-league line of .272/.372/.396, and if the change is real the Giants, as I understand it, didn't have a lot to do with turning him into Andres Torres. 
  • Cody Ross, NLCS MVP, was acquired on accident and is now batting fifth and playing left field.

But there's also Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey. The 2010 Giants strike me as an especially lucky team, having managed to avoid hurting themselves too badly while gaming Posey's arbitration status and discovering two offensive cornerstones out of three on the discard pile, but they've built a formidable rotation and minimized the amount of luck that was necessary to push them over the top, like any other World Series team.

The Cardinals will need a little luck—it would be good to see Kyle Lohse at least be as effective as Barry Zito, and if their middle infield stays the same they'll need a relatively big season from Ryan or Schumaker. And they'll need several players to play at the very top of their abilities where last season Pujols and Molina, for instance, were in the lower part of our expectations.

But they'll need to continue to maintain the center of the team, the windbreak against luck, as well as they have of late. It's as well-defined as any team's in baseball, at this point—it is, and has to be, Pujols, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Matt Holliday. The further out from that point they can build—to Molina and Jaime Garcia, for instance—the less their postseason hopes will be contingent on Miguel Tejada driving in 120 runs.